After space constraints forced it to turn people away from its family warming center, Catholic Charities opened a larger, temporary homeless shelter at Gonzaga Prep on Friday.
The new shelter at Gonzaga Prep’s auxiliary gymnasium allows Catholic Charities to continue practicing social distancing at its warming center for families, which had been located in the former Holy Names Convent, and to have guests sleep six feet apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The space at Gonzaga Prep – which is closed until at least mid-June under the state’s orders – can accommodate up to 60 people, more than doubling the current capacity for families Catholic Charities currently has at its warming center.
“We were turning families away, so there’s certainly a need for us to get to pre-COVID level of capacity,” said Dawn Kinder, vice president of stabilization at Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities opened a shelter for families in the former Holy Names Convent as part of the network of city-funded warming centers last November, but its capacity was sharply reduced this spring when public health officials asked shelters to space out their guests.
It was a particular strain on shelters for families experiencing homelessness, which are already among the most strained. According to the city’s capacity reports during the winter, there were more than 500 beds dedicated to adult men and women, but only a fraction of that – 145 – set aside for families with minor children.
During the last week in April, Catholic Charities’ family warming center had available beds only one night. Family Promise, which operates the only other shelter for families in Spokane, reported having no extra beds every night in April.
Catholic Charities says its warming center at Holy Names Convent was a success, with 81% of families who stayed there leaving for stable housing, nine of its guests landing a job and 30 families receiving case management services.
But when Catholic Charities was forced to turn families away, they were cut off from not only safe shelter but also the additional social services that help charter a path to stable housing.
That work will now continue, under a different roof.
The auxiliary gym space at Gonzaga Prep totals about 10,000 square feet and is complemented by multiple locker rooms, which include showers and bathrooms. Catholic Charities has plans to bring meals on site and has contracted with a laundry service.
“When Catholic Charities called for help, we recognized an opportunity to lead by example,” Michael Dougherty, president of Gonzaga Prep, said in a statement. “As long as we are not able to serve our students on campus, we are grateful for the chance to share our space with families who need the support of our community.”
Under the direction of Spokane Regional Health District Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane’s homeless shelters have been sleeping guests six feet apart. That’s abnormal for shelter operators, who usually try to accommodate as many people as allowed under city code.
The COVID-19 measures forced shelters across the city to spread out. At the Holy Names Convent space, that brought capacity down from 45 people to just 15 overnight.
As part of the region’s COVID-19 response, the city issued a request for proposals in early April to continue funding shelters through the pandemic and fund the additional costs of providing socially distant shelter.
Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington applied for additional family shelter, and was awarded up to $93,713 monthly for expenses related to the increased service at Gonzaga Prep.
Gonzaga Prep and Catholic Charities have partnered in the past, particularly on the Gonzaga Family Haven housing project planned for northeast Spokane.
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